Dear Reader, I‘ve done it again. It’s gorgeous outside and everyone is strolling or gardening and I’m inside. Doing my taxes. At the last minute.
Generally, it seems, humans love to get away with something. Like when my mommy would say I could have “a couple” cookies and I’d take three. A friend still has a stapler from our first job together 30 years ago, technically white collar crime; I’m pretty sure her family would have given her a stapler had she asked. Tax advisors to corporate giants find secret, magical tax loopholes, and their clients are rolling themselves in wallpaper paste and 100-dollar bills, having gleefully denied Uncle Sam his due.
My current scam is the Substitute Task System. Say, I’m supposed to write my column. I don’t feel like it, so I scrub the tub. It’s productive but it feels like I’m getting away with something. Later, when I am to vacuum, I’ll sort a drawer. Write birthday cards? Clean the dashboard with a toothpick. All less of a yawner because they’re not the thing I’m supposed to be doing. Then, when I’m supposed to do my taxes, I’ll write my column. You get the picture. By not doing what I’m supposed to be doing, even if I’m doing something measurably less pleasant, I think I’m getting away with something. Delicious.
Back to taxes. Why do I put this off? Because every year I can’t find some document, or I think the accountant is going to ask me for a document I don’t have and I’ll never get through to the people that can get me the document, lost in an endless loop of recorded phone options (“Press 9 to hear these options again”) as the grains of sand cascade hopelessly through the hourglass’s waist.
Or: kindly people at the library, paid by God, are helping me at no cost in a super lean year. They examine my documents and murmur softly, “Uh oh. She has to file a 27-K19…” because of some 75-cent “dividend” I got in a way I don’t understand. They can’t find the 27-K19 form and the good citizens on line behind me begin melting as their kids circle the library in a frenzy. A hole starts opening in the floor and through the smoke I can see the gates of Hell and I’m going down. I am a bad person. I’m unprepared. I never got rid of the thing producing a 75-cent dividend requiring a 27-K19. I’m inconveniencing the hard-working Americans on line behind me. Run.
Weirdly, I’m not by nature a procrastinator. I dislike putting things off. I could never understand college friends concocting cockamamie excuses to get an extension on a paper – why prolong the agony? An inveterate list-maker, little gives me more satisfaction than (a) lining tasks up and (b) knocking them down. Saturday morning is my favorite. A whole DAY to check items off the list. Brilliant!
But filing taxes is simply, for many, an odyssey fraught with peril. One wrong move and it’s Hefty Fine City plus Audited For Life. I’ve done my taxes last-minute in all ways: on paper with an instruction booklet, via affordable accountant, via pricey accountant avec late filing fee (his idea), via kindly people paid by God to help those in a super lean year, by phone (before Al Gore invented the Internet), and with TurboTax (after Al Gore invented the Internet). My suggestion: TurboTax. Start it, ignore it for a few days, and they’ll halve the price to lure you back. Score.
That lucky reward aside, procrastination is ultimately unsatisfying because you’re not getting away with something. In the end, it has to get done. All the sweating and hair pulling and the crying and the bloodletting wreak yet again their senseless damage when you could easily have dealt with things earlier during a blizzard instead, and gone frolicking outdoors with everyone else on a gorgeous Palm Sunday.
Could it, Dear Reader, have been gorgeous that earlier weekend, and a snowstorm this? No, it could not. Mother Nature collaborates with God at tax time to punish human laggards for dillydallying. Hades is the only stop on this terrible annual journey across the River Styx aboard the S.S. Procrastination. It’s not a local, it’s an express. The doors will not open until the last stop and you cannot get off and you know exactly where you’re headed and it’s nobody’s fault but your own that you got on board. Good day.
HOT TIP FROM A LOCAL: A tax-prep service apparently accessible to 70% of Americans, but only 2% use it because no one knows about it: irs.gov/freefile.